COVID-19: Apple and Google Team Up To Develop Technology To Trace COVID-19 Using Mobile Phones

In rare collaboration, tech rivals look to method used in some Asian countries to curb contagion; effort is likely to raise privacy concerns.

Google will build software together that would alert people if they were in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, an unprecedented collaboration between two Silicon Valley giants and rivals.

The project, which is certain to raise privacy concerns, offers the most concrete technological solution to date for governmental authorities searching for ways to at least partially lift the lockdown orders that have swept the nation. The companies are by far the world’s biggest smartphone software providers, with billions of users world-wide.

The companies said jointly Friday that the “contact tracing tools” they are developing would be built into smartphones, using existing Bluetooth technology that tracks whether phones have passed within a certain distance of one another. If a user tests positive for the coronavirus and chooses to participate in the system, other phones will be able to search through their location data to determine whether they passed close enough for long enough to risk a potential exposure within the past 14 days.

Those unknowing individuals—provided they, too, have opted in—would receive a notification on their own phones, according to draft documents posted by the companies, such as, “ALERT: You have recently been exposed to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. Tap for more information.”
Apple and Google will release next month the first versions of software for the alert apps, which could be developed by public-health authorities, among others.

The private effort wasn’t coordinated in advance with the White House task force that is looking at potential tech solutions to curb the spread of the virus, according to a person familiar with the matter. President Trump said Friday that the technology raised privacy concerns, telling reporters: “It’s very interesting but a lot of people worry about it in terms of a person’s freedom. We’re going to take a look at that, a very strong look at it.”

The initiative would turn the smartphones in Americans’ pockets into pandemic tracking devices. The concept, similar to that used most prominently in Singapore earlier this year, could make it easier to contain future outbreaks as people return to daily life. Many experts believe such a technological solution will be necessary before isolation measures can be fully removed.


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